The reporting on the School Board meeting will be in two parts as there was major discussion around the Gates grant for a preschool at Bailey-Gatzert and discussion around funding a downtown school building.
It was an evening of back-and-forth about the Gates Foundation grant for a preschool at SPS, curious claims on room at that school (for preschool AND for downtown kids) and not one, but two, mariachi performances. Director Blanford was not present for the majority of the meeting (but came in later).
The meeting started a bit unevenly as members of the Chief Sealth High mariachi band did not all arrive at once. President Peaslee had Superintendent Nyland give his remarks out of order to give the band time to arrive.
Nyland congratulated Hawthorne Elementary which was recognized nationally for its family engagement efforts (the irony was that no one from Hawthorne staff could come and get the kudos as they were ...engaged in family engagement).
He also noted that two SPS teachers had gone to Washington,D.C. for their work in the new Seattle Teacher Residency. He noted that SPS was working with the "Seattle Alliance."
He also talked about the settlement for the Garfield field trip incident saying the district admitted no fault but then he went on to talk about the changes in field trip procedures and the work of the Title IX Taskforce. (That's a lot of work for there being no one at fault.)
He also announced it was National Principals month and National Disabilities month.
We then had two performances from the Chief Sealth mariachi band; it was lovely.
There was an item on the agenda for staff to give figures on the Operations Levy but that was postponed to the next Board meeting as OSPI didn't have all the figures right. (That's a bit of a coincidence because Monday morning, CM Bagshaw asked about the Operations Levy and what the money was spent on.)
Public Testimony (partial)
Two Chief Sealth students spoke, in glowing terms, of the opportunities that the IB program had given them. One spoke about discussing the Spanish revolution with a group of students from a school in Mexico.
There were numerous speakers in favor of a downtown elementary school. They had a lot of figures but many of them were not necessarily about children. (They named the number of new apartments being built and, of course, they have no way of knowing how many families might move into them.)
I will gently say that I understand the need. I have stated that many times and I was probably one of the first people to say that the district really should consider the Federal Reserve building. But some of the remarks to the Board from downtown parents border on the myopic.
Some complained about a long bus ride for downtown students to area schools. I'm not sure they are aware that many SPS students have long bus rides. They also seem to not understand how many schools need facility relief and how long many have been waiting. One speaker said the Fed Reserve building was "free" (save the cost of renovations). There is not just $53M in the capital till just waiting. Another asked the Board to "take risks."
Cecilia McCormick, a Sped parent and activist, thanked two SPS staffers - Lesley Rogers and Bernardo Ruiz - for their help in trying to get more accommodations for Sped meetings in order for more parents to attend.
She also pointed out that the Seattle Teachers Residency will start costing the district real dollars in a few short years. Couple that with how the proposed Gates Foundation preschool grant would also expire in three years and you will have a sudden blast of costs for SPS and where would that money come from? (More on the Gates Foundation grant later).
Another Graham Hill parent, Christine King, came to tell the Board, again, that not enough was being done for students walking to school on Rainier Ave. She said the 18 kids granted bus access would not get it next year and there were still 30-40 kids walking.
There were numerous speakers from the deaf and hard of hearing community. I am very surprised to learn there is no specific program for these students despite their numbers which are about 500. I have invited parents in that community to write a guest column here.
Eden Mack, legislative rep for the SCPTSA, came forward to voice concerns with a Halloween theme. She said the Board needed to step out of the darkness and into the light over the downtown school issue. She said that there was no money and yet many other schools in dire need. She asked the most important question which is, "What is the big picture and how would a downtown school fit into this plan?"
She pointed out some glaring issues; the Work Session on the downtown school got canceled, enrollment information has been pulled from the district website, there is no replacement yet for enrollment director, high school capacity issues are looming, the master facilities plan is outdated, and there are no FACMAC meetings. In short, what's the plan?
Director Carr asked Andrew Medina, the district's Internal Auditor, to come forward with his report.
Medina called out the handling of ASB funds and said manual cash handling was standard with about $9M in 2013 and $10M in 2014. He said this was the third year with issues and that they would mostly go away with an automated system.
He said there were four Sped findings around lack of signatures on forms, personal service contract work done before approval (this is ongoing at SPS as the State Auditor has said this as well although not around Sped services), "no policies or handbook" for Sped staff and no delegation of authority for staff.
He also said there was a finding that test booklets for state testing had "resided" at some schools for 4-5 weeks. He said this finding was not triggered by any particular event i.e. Beacon Hill. What was not stated is what IS the time that booklets should be at a school/sent to OSPI given that the testing window is around a month.
There was one finding that I'll have to ask more about - two databases collecting clock hours. Nothing more specific was said and no Directors asked any questions.
He said that corrective action plans have been put into motion. He also said a new "audit response manager" had been hired. As well, he touted their "corrective action plan tracking log." Is this that big a deal or just something so foreign to this district?
Director Carr said the district would easily repay any costs to automating the cash handling at the high schools and should do so. She said "other districts have this." And again, it's 2014. How is it our district does not have systems in place that seem so common sense or second nature? I guess it is priorities. Like preschool when K-12 is the district's state-funded mandate.
Director Martin-Morris gave his comments which were that he went on another trip. Said his next community meeting was on Saturday and attendance had been light. (It's interesting how some Board members get a lot of visitors to their community meetings and others don't.)
Director Patu mentioned attending the Rainier Beach High School homecoming. She also expressed regret that things were moving so slowly for the Graham Hill parents who are worried about student walking safety.
Director McLaren, alluding to the downtown school, said that neighborhood schools are important that they should find a solution in the future. She said that the Board needed more data and planning before any kind of decision is made. She also said there was no resolution to endorse the City's 1B proposition measure in the Curriculum & Instruction Committee (I had mentioned it in my testimony and all I can say is that it was on the agenda.)
Director Peters mentioned attending the upcoming UW Alumni Association Multicultural Alumni Partnership (MAP) breakfast on October 25th. This breakfast is the "Bridging the Gap" event to help fund scholarships for deserving students AND celebrate honorees. Two of them this year are Director Patu and her husband, Von Paul Patu.
Peters also mentioned that she will be attending the TAG conference in Oregon for highly capable children (one she has attended for years). She said that this year's speaker was going to talk about reaching out to underserved populations. She also mentioned an update on the ConnectEdu situation about student data. Peters did say there were "extended deadlines for Sped and Advanced Learning input" but I didn't see anything at the district webpage.
Director Peaslee thanked the parents of students who are deaf and hard of hearing for coming to the meeting. She went on to say the Board was listening to all the arguments for and against a downtown school. (I'll quibble here and say I don't know anyone "against" a downtown school but rather, the timing and costs.) She said that the amount needed for renovations on the Federal Reserve building coupled with the timeline of done and open in three years was an issue.